The Pantheon and his history
|Via della Rosetta Via Del Pantheon
Picture: Neil Howard and Via della Rosetta: Joan Perroni
Pictures: _Robert C_ and Pablo Rodríguez
The current view about the Pantheon’s construction history
Originally Agrippa built a temple on this site as can still be read on the architrave: M.AGRIPPA.L.F. COS.TERTIUM.FECIT. (Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, third time consul built [me]. “Another inscription, situated on the architrave directly under the more prominent Agrippan one, records repairs carried out by the emperors Septimus Severus and Caracalla, as has also been confirmed by some brickstamps found in the dome and in the intermediate block.” Cited from Lise M. Hetland, “Dating the Pantheon,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 20 (2007)
|Marcus Agrippa copy likely after the original bronze
that was kept in the Pantheon Louvre
The old temple was built in 25 BC and after a fire rebuilt by Domitian in 80 CE. The building was substantially damagds by a fire again in 110 C.E., the Emporor Trajan decided te rebuild it. Only much later, in 1892, did research by the French architect Georges Chedanne show that the Pantheon as it still exists today dates from 118-125 CE. Research of the foundations has led to the discovery of the dates 120 and 125 on many of the stones (they thought so until 2007). The old foundations from Agrippa’s time were partly reused.
|Pantheon in the urban context today urban context antiquity big format
Campus Martius Youtube drone Sky View Productios (4.27 minutes)
Foto: Luc Mercelis
The temple that Hadrian designed is very different from its predecessor. Hadrian moved the entrance to the north side and built a round cella instead of the original square one.
1. Youtube lecture Pantheon professor Kleiner Yale University
2. Youtube Khan Academy Pantheon (8.31 minutes)
3. Youtube Pantheon Khan Academy (9.08 – 12.53 minutes)
4. Youtube reconstruction altair4.com (2 minutes)
5. Youtube The secrets of the Pantheon (5.40 minutes)
6. Youtube Pantheon Tim Wright (4.26 minutes)
7. Youtube reconstruction Virtual Roman Pantheon in BlueMars/CryEngine (5.08 minutes)
8. Live cam Pantheon
|aerial picture back and side|
photo: Jeffrey Yip
Livius wrote that Agrippa’s temple was built on the site where Romulus ascended to heaven. A storm suddenly rose up during a meeting and everything was plunged into darkness. After the storm passed, those present to their utter amazement found themselves looking at an empty throne. Romulus had entered the world of the gods.
Even though Hadrian’s design was also inspired by emperor Nero’s golden house, it is nevertheless unique. Hadrian copied the alternation of round and square niches and the open oculus (literally: the eye) from an octagonal room (reconstruction) in the golden house Youtube reconstruction octagonale room 5.20 minutes). Completely new is the round cella in a temple behind a square portico. As you have learned in class, neither the Greeks nor the Etruscans knew such a design.
Novel insights about the Pantheon’s construction history
“In 125, emperor Hadrian had the Pantheon completely renovated, giving it its current round shape.” according to the Dutch Wikipedia. Archaeological research of the Pantheon’s foundation reveals that:
- The foundation of Agrippa’s temple was not rectangular like a classical Greek or Roman temple, but round (see layout: red marks the foundation of Agrippa’s temple and black Hadrian, Rodolfo Lanciani 1897).
- Agrippa’s temple had a portico with high columns, a pediment and a roundabout with the same dimensions as the current Pantheon and the entrance was oriented towards the North.
- The stamps in the bricks of the foundation are nearly all from the period when Trajan was emperor (110 to 117). The English Wikipedia does mention some of the new insights.
Dr. Paul A. Ranogajec, The Pantheon Khan Academy, Lise M. Hetland, “Dating the Pantheon,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 20 (2007), pp. 95-112 and Eugenio La Rocca, ‘Agrippa’s Pantheon and its origin (download pdf) in: Tod A. Marder/Mark Wilson Jones (ed), The Pantheon: From Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge University Press 2015 pp. 49-78. Carandini, A., with Carafa, P., (Edited by), The Atlas of Ancient Rome Biography and portraits of the City, (Volume) I and II, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, English translation 2017, (Volume) I p. 508 left column.
These three facts shed a new light on the current view. The attribution to Hadrian now has wavering and narrow support. After all, the foundation (for the most part) and the shape of the temple, are from the periods of Agrippa and Trajan. These details raise doubts.
Was the Pantheon constructed for the dynastic emperor worship, which started with August? The mausoleum of August (reconstruction) was completed a few years prior to the Pantheon and is also situated at the Campus Martius, on the same axis as the Pantheon.
Who designed the Pantheon? Was it the architect of Trajan, namely Apollodorus of Damascus, who is also known for Trajan’s Forum? (Trajan and Apollodorus visit the Pantheon)
Did Hadrian simply want to do justice to Agrippa’s original temple with the inscription M.AGRIPPA.L.F. COS.TERTIUM.FECIT. ?
Rodolfo Lanciani was right with his layout of Agrippa’s Pantheon (red marks the foundation of Agrippa’s temple and black Hadrian). Agrippa’s temple had a portico with high columns, a pediment and a roundabout with the same dimensions as the current Pantheon. But Agrippa’s Pantheon was clearly different in one respect:
|“The Augustan structure [Agrippa’s Pantheon reconstruction] cannot have had a concrete vault. As is generally accepted, the technical conditions necessary to vault such a large space did not yet exist. […] The exedra of the Forum of August, comparable in radius to the Pantheon, had a wooden roofs covered in stucco”|
Quoted from: Eugenio la Rocca, Agrippa’s Pantheon and its origin. In: Tod A. Marder and Mark Wilson Jones (Edited by), The Pantheon From Antiquity to the Present, Cambridge University Press 2015 pp.64-66 ISBN 978-0-521-80932-0
The facade of the portico
The front of the building features eight columns out of a total of 16, all carved out of a single block of pink and grey marble. The plinths and capitals were carved separately from precious Pentelian marble. The Corinthian columns were originally intended to be 15 meters high.
When one looks at the Pantheon’s facade from one of the sides, one can see the intermediate rectangular block with triangular tympan that seamlessly connects with the cornice of the cella. The triangular tympan of the portico does not properly connect with the cella (click here for a YouTube video showing this ugly connection).
plan showing the Campus Martius in the Augustan period
|Original project [facade] (M. Wilson Jones, 2009), never completed due to the 50-foot (14.78 m) shafts [monoliths] not being available. Project completed with 40-foot (11.82 m) high shafts (monoliths]. Above the pediment is where the pronaos would have attached, according to the original project.
The image of an eagle in the pediment recalled the eagle that flew several times around August in AD 14 as he was bringing the lustrum to an end in the Capus Martius and then flew across to the temple near (the Pantheon?), and perched above the first letter of Agrippa’s name (Suetonius, August, 97)
Quated from: Carandini, A., Carafa., P., (edited), The Atlas of Ancient Rome: Biography and Portraits of the City, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford 2012 (English translation 2017) Volume II Tab. 276
How did this happen? The structure features no less than 16 monoliths (columns carved from a single block of marble) and it is a challenging task to carve out columns this big from a quarry and of exactly the right dimensions too. The Egyptian quarries where these columns were carved, could not fill this order in such a short period of time. They were, however, able to supply 16 twelve-meter columns. This is the reason why Hadrian used the twelve-meter columns and was forced to accept that the view of the portico was somewhat marred by the ugly connection with the cella. Fifteen-meter tall columns would have raised the portico to exactly the level of the second tympan of the intermediate block and connected beautifully with the cornice circling the rotunda (A. Claridge, Rome Oxford Archaeological Guides, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998 page. 203)
Exterior of the Pantheon. In antiquity, one had to mount eight steps to reach the portico. These steps now lie buried under the sand that has piled up over the centuries.
Pantheon in antiquity in current urban context
picture (mouseover): google earth
|Pantheon floor plan
Corinthian Capital Youtube Altair4Mulimedia ( 2.0 minutes) Youtube interior Sky View Productions (2.00-4.57 minutes)
|Pantheon reconstruction Jupiter
Youtube Virtual Roman Pantheon in BlueMars/CryEngine (5.08 minutes)
|Diana Minerva Vesta|
light source for a gallery
|photo: Robin Denton|
|Giovanni Paolo Pannini Pantheon detail oculus|
If you look at the building as a whole, it consists of three parts. The first part you see is the portico (a pronaos or entrance hall of a Greek temple). Next there is a transition to the naos or cella. This part, that forms the transition from pronaos to naos, has a barrel vault.
When you finally open the original bronze doors, you enter a big circular space: the naos, which is completely domed. One feature that immediately stands out is the big opening in the dome through which rain, wind, sun and moon can all enter freely. The diameter of this oculus is nine meters. The height from the ground is 43.3 meters, which also happens to be the exact diameter of this domed room. This means that you could inflate a perfectly spherical balloon with a diameter of 43.3 meters in this room, with the dome covering exactly half of this big balloon. Looking at the dome from the outside, the perfect sphere you saw on the inside is no longer discernible. This has to do with the construction of the Pantheon.
The construction of the Pantheon
The huge dome is nearly six meters thick where it rests on its piers but only 1.4 meters thick near the opening. The dome was made of concrete mixed with several kinds of crushed rock (for more information on Roman concrete click here). The materials used to build the dome become lighter and lighter as you near the top. The ring around the oculus is made of pumice, a very light kind of rock that contains much air.
|Bronze doors outside and inside
pictures: ajee2009 and pjm2008
The rotunda (without dome) can therefore be described as a series of pillars connected by walls or as two concentric walls connected by transverse walls. In modern terms, the rotunda is what we call a ‘diaphragm’; this structural element is relatively light and incredibly strong (source: Ziolkowski, A.,’Pantheon’ in Steinby, E.M. (et al), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae (Rome 1999, p. 59 or click here for Drum and see footnote 33). The hollow recesses in the pillars or walls not only make it lighter, but also stronger.
|“Giuliano da Sangallo drew attention to them by using a dark tint on his plan in the Codex Barberinianus perhaps to represent the darkness of the empty spaces. Some decades later, Sebastiano Serlio remarked that “I think the spaces are there to avoid using too much material. In any case, being circular they are very strong.”|
Despite the clever us of various materials to make the dome as light as possible, there is still a huge amount of weight pressing down on the piers. The lateral forces generated by such a mass push the piers and the walls between them outward. This implies that the eight piers must be extremely stable to withstand the pressure. The lower ‘rings’ around the dome were built to keep the lateral forces under control. The eight piers, each pier six meters thick, that form part of the thick wall are made of concrete (click here; the gray color between the red is hollow). The construction above the eight niches in the cella was the cause of much amazement. How on earth is it possible that the two columns support an architrave without collapsing under the weight and the pressure of the dome? They should, according to the laws of physics. The reason why the two Corinthian columns are able to bear this enormous weight was hidden by the architect behind the marble and the coffers of the dome.
|Pantheon niche flanked by two aediculae big size
The hidden construction: 1. behind the marble of the two aediculae 2. in the dome
|dome intrados at the sprining with plaster kocked off 1892 upper east staircase just below the dome S7
thickness dome at the springing 6.4 meters and the top 1.2 meters barrel vaults
Today one can see the originally hidden loadbearing construction from the outside in the shape of round relieving arches. Relieving arches or rather barrelled vaults were built into the six-meter thick walls between the eight columns. The same technique was used for the dome. If one looks at the illustration above, one can see that these barrelled vaults channel the forces to the heavy piers instead of to the niches’ architraves. The forces that do press down on the architraves are channelled to the two Corinthian columns by smaller arches.
|brick layer (bottom), inner concrete (middle to top), and the holes used to support scaffolding|
|Pantheon interior niche with two columns the relieving arches in the niche
In antiquity the obelisk was often used as a sundial. That way you could more or less tell time and know where you were. The Pantheon not only tells each hour of the day and the night, but also what day it is. The current altar directly opposite the entrance always remains in shadow, while from the entrance, after passing through the heavy bronze doors, you could see the sun at its zenith. Standing in the cella between winter and summer, you could tell exactly what day of the year and what hour of the day it was. In this period, the sunlight would fall precisely on the projecting edge separating the wall from the dome and the first row of coffers. More information: Giulio Magli and Robert Hannah ‘The role of the sun in the Pantheon’s design and meaning’
The meaning and purpose
Opinions on the meaning of the Pantheon differ greatly. And yet there is consensus on a number of points. As we have already seen, the floorplan is a circle with a diameter of 43.3 meters, which is also the exact height. In addition to the circle, the cella will also fit an equilateral triangle, running from the exact centre of the entrance to the two corners of the niches. One could also draw a square around the cella. These dimensions and shapes are of course no coincidence. Cicero (De natura deorium, II, 53) wrote the following about the sphere, cube and pyramid:
|You say that a cone or a cylinder or a pyramid to your eyes is more beautiful than a globe. Let’s assume that these others shapes are more beautiful, in their appearance that is, even though I contest that. Because what could be more beautiful than the shape that comprises and encompasses all others? A shape that has no imperfections, does not offend the eye, has no sharp edges and not a single angle, projection, indentation or deviation. There are, in fact, two optimal shapes: among solid bodies this is the solid globe or ‘sphere’ (sphaira), as it’s called in Greek, and among flat shapes this is the ring or ‘circle’ (kyklos), as the Greeks would say…Don’t you understand that such a regular movement and stable order as exists in the universe, of necessity assumes a globe? These solid (heavenly) bodies are the expression of a divine intelligence: from the square to the cube, from the circle to the cylinder and from the pyramid to the cone, all of these shapes come together in the globe.|
Quoted from: Henri Stierlin, Imperium Romanum Part I, Taschen, Cologne, 1996 page 158.
From this perspective, the Pantheon is a building that represents the cosmos. Looking at the dome’s interior, you will see five rows of coffers.
|Pantheon dome interior big size|
|dome interior and exterior
|Pantheon a look through the oculus
Source: Stefan Hansson
They were originally painted blue with gilded stars in each coffer. In Hadrian’s day people believed there were seven planets in all. These are the five rows of coffers plus the sun and moon shining through the oculus. The Pantheon, as the name suggests, is dedicated to all the gods and to the heavens.
|The dome’s coffers (inset panels) are divided into 28 sections, equaling the number of large columns below. 28 is a “perfect number” a whole number summed factors equal it (thus, 1+2+4+7+14= 28). Only four perfect numbers were known in antiquity (6, 28, 496 and 8128) and they were somtimes held -for instance, by Pythagoras and his followers – to have mystical, religious meaning in connection with the cosmos. (Wikipedia: Pythagoras religio and science )|
Quoted from: Dr. Paul A. Ranogajec, The Pantheon Khan Academy
The round opening probably refers to the idea that the Athenian Plato put into words as follows:
|The blessed race of the gods moves across the heavens along splendid paths where all sorts of magnificent things can be seen. Each god performs their own task, and everyone who is willing and able can join them, because envy has no place in the cosmic choral dance. When they go to attend a festive dinner, they ride straight upward to the top of the heavenly vault (…) When they (the immortals) reach the top of the vault, they ride outward and take up position on the back of heaven. They then turn with the (heavenly) revolution and see everything that is outside the heavens. The praises of the domain above the heavenly vault have not yet been sung by any poet from down here and no one will ever properly do so.|
Quoted from: Jona Lendering, page 293.
Platonic philosophy came back in fashion during Hadrian’s reign. Lendering believes the emperor must have been familiar with those ideas. In that case the Pantheon’s oculus would not so much be based on the octagonal domed room in Nero’s golden house, but rather on Platonic philosophy and the ‘opening in the heavenly vault’ described by Plato.
|oculus (picture: matthew:D)/ Youtube Flying around and inside the Pantheon (2.09-3.39 minutes)
‘opening in the heavenly vault’ Cave Cave Deus Videt “Beware, Beware, God Sees” Jan van Eyck
|stairs of Pantheon’s dome and descend the stairs
at the top looking through the Eye of the Gods
The Pantheon becomes a church
In 608 the emperor Phocas gave the Pantheon to Pope Boniface IV. This pope had 38 wagons full of martyrs’ bones taken from the catacombs to the Pantheon where they were enshrined. The Pantheon was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all martyrs. As a result, the building was reasonably well maintained. For a long time it was thought that Bernini used the bronze from the Pantheon for casting the four pillars of the Baldacchino. However, recent research (2008) shows that only 1.8 percent of the bronze that was destined for the twisted columns comes from the Pantheon. Even this amount of bronze was returned to the Fabbrica di San Pietro (public works Vatican). The bronze from the Pantheon is mainly used for casting guns. Bernini did not trust the alloy. (Louise Rice, “Bernini and the Pantheon Bronze,” in St. Peter in Rom 1506-2006) Beiträge der internationalen Tagung vom 22-25 February 2006 in Bonn, ed. Georg Satzinger and Sebastian Schütze, Munich 2008a, pp. 337-352 Essay is from 2008)
Measures under Pope Alexander VII
|Battista Gauli “Alexander VII” second half 17th century|
During the Middle Ages, the Pantheon fell victim to neglect and deliberate destructiveness. The canons had a chapter house built on the left side of the portico. After some time, all of the columns on the east side (left) of the portico had been integrated into the adjoining walls. Two columns were eventually completely dismantled and removed. Several buildings were also built on the west side of the Pantheon (the right side when standing in front of the Pantheon). Flower sellers and other venders set up their stalls in the portico. Their presence was condoned because of the fees they paid for their stalls.
The piazza in front of the Pantheon was full of traders, artists and suppliers of every kind conducting their business. Sometimes their space was curtailed by temporary tables and market stalls, but most of the time there was a lot of bickering and sometimes even fighting over the best places in the piazza. This went on for centuries. Over the centuries, the ground level in Rome kept rising and the Pantheon kept sinking. Maerten van Heemskerck’s drawings show how the plinths of the columns have disappeared below the sand. Another drawing shows that visitors had to go down a flight of stairs to get into the Pantheon. Because of all the adjoining buildings and the steadily rising ground level of the piazza, the building no longer stood out. In 1575 a fountain was built, but not along the axis of the Pantheon, i.e. not in the middle. The obelisk, just like the one for the S. Maria sopra Minerva, had been discovered during excavations near the monastery of that church.
|Maerten van Heemskerck Pantheon Kupferstichkabinett Berlin Roman sketchbooks
descend the stairs to get in the Pantheon 1503
Pope Alexander VII wanted to restore the Pantheon to its former lustre. He had many plans. He wanted to buy up entire blocks of houses to restore the big square in front of the Pantheon that existed in antiquity. Many of these plans came to nothing. The pope had great trouble removing the venders from the portico. In his diary, Alexander made the following entry for January 1661:
|For the third time we are having the flower vendors chased away from the left column of the portico of the Santa Maria Rotonda.|
|Israel Silvestre Piazza della Rotonda and the Pantheon big format 1630 -1650
Stefano della Bella A market outside the Pantheon c. 1657 current square in front of the Pantheon
For the third time we are having the flower vendors chased away from the left column of the portico of the Santa Maria Rotonda.
In 1657 the pope decreed that all buildings that had been added to the Pantheon had to be demolished to achieve ‘greater decorum’ for the building. A major ’clean-up’ of St Peter’s square was initiated at the same time.
For a while the canons were successful in their attempts to prevent the demolition of their chapter house. They mounted a legal defence in which a slew of official documents and concessions were brought forward. In response, Alexander VII brought a variety of accusations against the canons. They were put under a magnifying glass, and, lo and behold, all kinds of reprehensible activities came to light. The canons rented out rooms to prostitutes and closed the doors of the Santa Maria Rotonda even before noon, which made it impossible for the venders to attend mass. Meanwhile, a commission was appointed to investigate how the canons could be reimbursed for their loss of revenue and the loss of their chapterhouse.
The improvements to the Pantheon consisted of refurbishing the portico and a reconstruction of the chapter house. The columns that had been removed were replaced by new columns and capitals. These restorations are still clearly visible today. Both the new columns and the entablature above bear the inscriptions of the Chigis. The square near the portico was lowered so that the steps and plinths became visible once again. Venders and their stalls were restricted to an area behind the fountain.
|Pantheon portico old (right) and new columns (left) en capitals new columns and capitals big format
study for repair of Pantheon’s porch 1662 or 1666
Because all of his grand schemes for the exterior of the Pantheon had failed, Alexander VII decided to focus on the interior. Contrary to what is often alleged in literature, the most recent insights argue that Bernini did not implement the changes to the Pantheon.
The two 17th century bell towers that were added to the Pantheon have been wrongly attributed to Bernini. Much of the available information points to Borromini and Fontana as the most likely architects. Bernini refused to make the alterations that Alexander VII had in mind. The pope wanted to close the oculus with a glass pane and decorate the coffers with all kinds of ornaments.
We know from a letter he wrote in 1672 that Bernini three times refused Alexander VII’s request to alter the Pantheon’s dome. He replied he did not have the required talent for the job. The pope’s ambitions collided with Bernini’s notion that the Pantheon could not really be improved upon. However, he did offer the pope to paint the pilasters near the attic if there was not enough money to replace them with marble ones. The fact of the matter was that Bernini did not want to mar the Pantheon’s beautiful design, there was simply no why he could improve it. Just like Michelangelo out of respect for the Pantheon deliberately designed his dome for St Peter’s just a little smaller – about 50 centimetres. As a result, the Pantheon to this day has the biggest domed room. The dome spans an interior space of 1,520 square meters with a volume of 46,000 cubic meters.
the commissioning Mass
Measures under Benedict XIV and Mussolini
|Piere Subleyars “Benedict XIV” Versailles|
In the 18th century, when neo-classicism came into fashion, architect Paolo Posi was commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV to redesign the second register with a series of small pilasters. Posi’s plan consisted of an unimaginative succession of niches with triangular pediments, hiding from sight the illogical transition from the ground floor to the dome.
|Ippolito Caffi Belluno Pantheon c. 1840|
Bernini had always strongly opposed this sort of idea. In 1925, under Mussolini’s reign, tears in the panels were restored and finally, by 1932, a small portion of the attic was restored to its original condition.
|Paolo Posi’s alterations 1756-1758 and Mussolini’s changes Alberto Terenzio 1930s
|Pantheon oculus rose petal drop down/ sprinkle through the eye of God Pentecost Christmas crib
Youtube Rosita Steenbeek (4.53 minutes)
Raphaël and the opening of his grave
Before we go outside, we will take a look at Raphael’s grave (in the niche between the second and third chapel on the left) who lies buried here between many other artists and two kings. Raphael’s friend Cardinal Bembo wrote the following epitaph: Ille hic est Raphael, timuit quo sospite vinci, rerum magna parens et moriente mori, or ‘Here lies that famous Raphael by whom Nature feared to be conquered while he lived, and when he was dying, feared herself to die.
|Francesco Diofebi “The opening of Raphael’s grave in the Pantheon” 1833-1836|
|The Renaissance artist Raphael was a cult figure in the 19th century, and some uncertainty as to where the famous painter was really buried led to the opening of his assumed tomb in the Pantheon on 14 September 1833. 75 distinguished figures had been invited. There were representatives of art, the Church, the City of Rome and, most important of all, medicine, who acted as judges. Thorvaldsen was naturally among the artists, the figure with the white hair behind the seated papal representative, Cardinal Vicario Zurla. As emerges from the painting, the tomb turned out to contain a skeleton, and it was determined by those present that these really were Raphael’s earthly remains.|